Paul’s Unwearied Ministry
2 Cor. 4:1-6
As a faithful servant of the Lord, Paul suffered many difficult, dangerous, discouraging, even life-threatening situations.
There were attempts to kill him in Damascus (Acts 9:24), as well as in Jerusalem, “where they
went about to slay him” (Acts 9:29). They drove him out of Antioch (Acts 13:50), attempted to stone him in Iconium (Acts 14:5), and did stone and “drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead” (Acts 14:19) at Lystra.
At Philippi they beat him with rods and put him in prison (Acts 16:23, 24). He was mobbed at
Thessalonica (Acts 17:5), driven out of Berea (Acts 17:13, 14), plotted against in Corinth (Acts 18:12), nearly lost his life in Ephesus (Acts 19:29; II Cor. 1:8, 9) and in Corinth (Acts 20:3) and Jerusalem (Acts 22:22-24; 23:13, 13). He spent two years in prison at Caesarea, and two more in Rome, suffered things too numerous to mention (2 Cor. 11:23-27), and was finally executed as a criminal (2 Tim. 2:9; 4:5-8). The apostle must have had an amazing endurance, for he sang as he suffered (Acts 16:25). None but an iron constitution could have lived through it. Even that would not have been sufficient, had not God’s grace and strength been “made perfect in (Paul’s) weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Illustration 1: “Ministers” Of 1 Corinthians 4:1-3
This word “ministers” has been rendered “under-rowers”, men who tug at the oars on the lowest bench on a galley.
In ancient times, there were three banks of galley-rowers: those on the upper bank had the advantage of fresh air; those beneath were more shut in; but the lowest rowers would faint with the heat. Their rapid strokes consumed the life forces of the slaves. Chained to the oars and in the worst position—that was their lot.
Like Paul, let us be willing to be servants, slaves in the Lord’s house, doormats in the Master’s entrance hall. Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.
I. Paul’s Sincerity and Dedication (2 Cor. 4:1-2)
A. In using the word “therefore” Paul is continuing a thought from the previous chapter.
B. “We have this ministry”. Paul uses this word for “service”. Christians are “saved to serve”. It’s not what we can gain or profit but what can we do for others because of what Christ has done for us”. He is also saying since we have such access to God and His assistance in service, we have such a mighty and majestic opportunity.
C. “We faint not”. Paul does not lose heart. Despite of all the difficulties he just continues serving Christ. He did not quit. Does he feel he has done a poor job in Troas? Feeling differently would not make him any more effective. It is God who makes us adequate, through His Spirit. God does not just work in spite of our weaknesses; He works through our weaknesses. When we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10). The key to Paul ‘s encouragement is not his skill, nor his persuasive power; the key is God ‘s grace. Notice that Paul says, “as we have received mercy”. Mercy is for those who are unworthy. God does not bless just those things we do well; in His grace, He shows us mercy when we are pitiful.
D. “But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty…” (2 Cor. 4:2): Paul lived the gospel he preached. “Renounced” means “to turn away from” or to “repent”. Dishonesty here refers to secret immoralities, hypocrisies, and the sins hidden deep in the life of the false teachers.
E. “Nor handling the word of God deceitfully”. Not using the doctrines of the Gospel to serve any secular or carnal purpose, or excuse sin. There were deceitful handlers of this kind in Corinth, and there are many popular Christian ministers now who just preach health, wealth and prosperity gospel instead of renouncing sin. They also pervert the teaching of Christ and the OT Scriptures. Paul is not a deceiver; he is a man of truth.
F. “commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God”. He presented the truth and made his appeal directly to the human conscience.
G. What Paul was telling here is that after his salvation, he renounced all things that were shameful and dishonest. He refused to be one of those that walked in craftiness and deceitfully manipulated the word of God. He could never be truthfully charged with any of those characteristics. God was his witness and all that he did would stand the test when inspected by the Lord. No man could honestly look at the things that Paul had done and attribute any of it to be unfit and untruthful, he was pure in his work.
Illustration 2: A Character Profession
Ministry is a character profession. To put it bluntly, you can sleep around and still be a good brain surgeon. You can cheat on your mate and have little trouble continuing to practice law. Apparently, it is no problem to stay in politics and plagiarize. You can be a successful salesperson and cheat on your income tax. But you cannot do those things as a Christian or as a minister and continue enjoying the Lord’s blessing. You must do right in order to have true integrity. If you can’t come to terms with evil or break habits that continue to bring reproach to the name of Christ, please, do the Lord (and us in ministry) a favor and resign. Chuck Swindoll, Rise and Shine, p. 198
Illustration 3: Need Both Legs
A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly. Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs.
B. Warfield, quoted in Credenda Agenda, Volume 4, No. 5, p. 16
II. The unbeliever’s blindness (2 Cor. 4:3, 4)
A. Blindness denotes ignorance as to spiritual things (Isa. 6:10; Isa 42:18, 19; Mat. 15:14; Eph. 4:18). Many people, Jews and Gentiles did not accept the gospel. To them it was veiled. But Paul would not change it to make it more acceptable, as his enemies had done (2 Cor. 11:4). Those who are lost (“perishing”) cannot understand the message of the Gospel. The gospel was rejected by people who were unable and unwilling to accept it (1 Cor 1:18; 2:14). They disbelieved and were helped in their unbelief by Satan, the god of this world (Eph. 2:2) who, though defeated by Christ (Heb. 2:14), continues his hold over the present world (1 Pet. 5:8; 1 Jn. 5:19). His blinding of peoples’ minds makes it impossible for unbelievers to see the light of the gospel.
B. The sad thing is that Satan uses religious teachers (like the Judaizers) to deceive people. Many of the people who today belong to cults were originally members of Christian churches.
C. “The glorious gospel of Christ” means the brightness, or clearness, of the doctrine wherein Christ is manifested in the gospel. It is all light, and splendour, and beauty, compared with the dark systems of philosophy and heathenism. It is glorious, for it is full of splendour; makes known the glorious God; discloses a glorious plan of salvation; and conducts ignorant, weak, and degraded man to a world of light. No two words in our language are so full of rich and precious meaning, as the phrase “glorious gospel.”
D. “Image of God”. Jesus Christ is the exact representation of God the Father (Col. 1:15, 2:9, Heb. 1:3).
Illustration 4: Satan’s Power is Permitted
Lest we be “terrified by our adversaries,” it is well to remember that Satan’s power is not inherent but permitted (Rom. 13:1). It is not unlimited, but controlled (Job 1:12; 2:6). It is not invincible, but broken (Luke 11:21-11). It is not assured of success, but is surely doomed (Rev. 20:2-3). Satan knows well that there is no ultimate victory for him. The pronounced sentence has only been postponed. But he works to hinder and postpone Christ’s final triumph. We can rejoice in the certainty of John’s assurance: “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4). Oswald Sanders, Cultivation of Christian Character, (Moody Press, Chicago; 1965), p. 86
III. Preaching Christ (2 Cor. 4: 5-6)
A. The awesome fact that Paul had received this ministry from Christ kept him from being a quitter and a deceiver, but it also kept him from being a self-promoter (2 Cor 4:5-6). “We preach not ourselves!” (2 Cor 4:5) The Judaizers enjoyed preaching about themselves and glorying in their achievements (2 Cor 10:12-18). They were not servants who tried to help people; they were dictators who exploited people.
A. Paul was certainly a man who practiced genuine humility. He did not trust in himself (2 Cor 1:9) or commend himself (2 Cor 3:1-5) or preach himself (2 Cor 4:5). He sought only to lead people to Jesus Christ and to build them up in the faith. It would have been easy for Paul to build a “fan club” for himself and take advantage of weak people who thrive on associating with great men. The Judaizers operated in that way, but Paul rejected that kind of ministry.
C. What happens when you share Jesus Christ with lost sinners? The light begins to shine! Paul compared conversion to Creation as described in Gen 1:3. Like the earth of Gen 1:2, the lost sinner is formless and empty, but when he trusts Christ, he becomes a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). God then begins to form and fill the life of the person who trusts Christ and he begins to be fruitful for the Lord. God’s, “Let there be light!” makes everything new.
Illustration 5: Apostle Paul
Paul saw himself as Christ’s herald. When he describes himself as an appointed preacher of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:11), the noun he uses means a herald, a person who makes public announcements on another’s behalf. When he declares “we preach Christ crucified,” the verb he uses denotes the herald’s appointed activity of blazoning abroad what he has been told to make known. When Paul speaks of “my preaching” and “our preaching” and lays it down that after the world’s wisdom had rendered the world ignorant of God “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe,” the noun he uses doesn’t mean the activity of announcing, but the thing announced, the proclamation itself, the message declared.
Paul, in his own estimation, was not a philosopher, not a moralist, not one of the world’s wise men, but simply Christ’s herald. His royal master had given him a message to proclaim; his whole business was to deliver that message with exact and studious faithfulness, adding nothing, altering nothing, and omitting nothing. And he was to deliver it not as another of people’s bright ideas, needing to be beautified with the cosmetics and high heels of fashionable learning in order to make people look at it, but as a word from God spoken in Christ’s name, carrying Christ’s authority and authenticated in the hearers by the convincing power of Christ’s Spirit (1 Cor. 2:1–5).
Your Father Loves You by James Packer, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986, page for May 21
Indeed, the Apostle Paul faithfully, sincerely, and tirelessly serve Christ the Lord. Experiencing all kinds of opposition within and outside the church including Satan is no joke, but by God’s grace he persevered. Will you serve Christ too like Paul? We may not be exactly like him but we can still serve faithfully, sincerely, tirelessly, in our small way to bring souls to the Lord and glorify Him in our lives.